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Democrats see a generational shift in leadership — literally

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Democrats see a generational shift in leadership — literally
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You can’t quite say that the announcement Thursday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she won’t be running again to lead the Democratic Party’s chamber caucus came as a surprise. Pelosi has served in the leadership role for nearly two decades, and her party’s losses in last week’s midterm elections mean she would have been relegated to minority leadership in the upcoming 118th Congress. As good a time to take a step back as any.

But there was also an unavoidable subtext. In 2020, Joe Biden brushed aside questions about his age by suggesting he would be a bridge to a new generation of leaders – something many in his party were agitating for. Before the midterms, this argument became a way for Democrats in contested races to speak out against both Biden and Pelosi: It wasn’t that they didn’t like top Democrats, really, just that they wanted “a new generation”.

With Pelosi’s announcement this week, that generational shift is in play. The Democrats likely to fill the top two positions in the House caucus literally belong to a different generation than Pelosi, 82, and the leader of House Majority Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), 83, who also announced he would. t seek reappointment. The next generation is upon us.

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It is not the case that generations are hard and fast things. People tend to defer to Pew Research Center definitions, in part because Pew lays out clear boundaries. If we compare the age of national leaders to these delineations, we can see how power is passed down through the generations…slowly.

Here are the ages (and therefore generations) of the President, Vice President, and Acting President of the Senate over the past 40 years. In the 1980s, they were all part of the “biggest” generation at Pew – the generation before the one before the baby boom. Over the past 10 years, they have all been baby boomers or members of the “silent generation”.

Vice President Harris is not the first boomer to hold this position; Dan Quayle was back in 1993. But she’s the youngest baby boomer to ever do so, although she’s now older than Quayle at the time.

The office of President of the Senate pro tempore is largely ceremonial and usually goes to the most senior member of the majority party, who is often the the oldest party member. Hence the gray lines well above the lines for President and Vice President.

Now let’s look at the change in leadership of the House. Interestingly, the Republican Party leadership has been younger than the Democratic Party leadership in recent years, in part because GOP leadership has been much more hotly contested in the post-tea-party era. (You will notice that the lines below are labeled as leader and whip/second rank. The fact that the senior party official in the majority usually becomes the Speaker of the House means that the position of “leader” then goes to the person who would otherwise be whipped. It’s all silly, but it is what it is.)

On the far right, you can see the generational shift for Democrats, if Pelosi were to be replaced by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.), 52, as many political watchers expect, and if Hoyer was to be replaced by Representative Katherine M. Clark. (D-Mass.), who is 59 years old. The party would go from two Silent Generation leaders to one boomer and one in Gen X.

It is important to recognize how particularly important this change is for Democrats. Breaking down supporters by age using national registration data from L2, we find that 2 in 5 Democrats are members of the two youngest generations, Millennials and Gen Z. Only a quarter of Republicans are. . In other words, there is more pressure for Democratic leaders to be younger and represent younger party members than for Republicans, about half of whom are baby boomers or older.

There has not yet been similar pressure from the side of the Senate. Senate leaders tend to be older since senators tend to be older, thanks to the age requirements for sitting in this chamber and because of the House Senate election pipeline. So Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.), 71, is a relatively young leader as a baby boomer — but also about 80% older Democrats.

Pelosi is older than 95% of Democrats, due to the fact that she has held office as long as she has, with few complaints from her party’s base. But after several years of rumblings, she and the party seem to have recognized that the time for generational change has, in fact, finally come.

Lenny Bronner contributed to this report.

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